Pigeon pea

Scientific Name
Cajanus cajan
Order / Family
Fabales: Fabaceae
Local Names
Swahili: Mbaazi
Pests & Diseases:
Other pests: Purple witchweed

Geographical Distribution in Africa

Geographical distribution of Pigeon Pea in Africa. Updated on 8th July 2019. Source FAOSTAT.


General Information and Agronomic Aspects

Pigeon pea is an important grain legume crop of rain-fed agriculture in the semi-arid tropics. Main pigeon pea producing regions are the Indian sub-continent, Central America and Southern and Eastern Africa. Pigeon pea is produced as a vegetable or export grain crop in southern and eastern Africa. In Kenya, pigeon pea is the third most widely grown pulse crop, and it is one of the fastest growing cash crops with an annual growth rate of 3% in the last decade. Green pigeon pea is being exported from Kenya to Europe (Snapp et al, 2003). The dry grain is also an important local pulse and export commodity in several African countries (Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda) (Minja, et al, 1999). 

Pigeon pea is a perennial shrub that is commonly grown as an annual crop. It has very slow initial development (up to 2 months after planting). With a deep taproot, pigeon peas are able to take up nutrients and water from lower subsoil layers. Therefore, in crop mixes they hardly compete with the companion crops. This crop grows and yields well under conditions of low rainfall and poor soil. 

Pigeon pea is well balanced nutritionally and an excellent source of protein. It is eaten as a vegetable (immature pods or green pea) or as dried grain (cooked and eaten as dhal, dry split cotyledons). The crop has many other uses: the wood is used as fuel, and the leaves and husks provide livestock feed. 

Pigeon pea is useful as tall hedges on dry soil and on the bunds of paddy fields. The branches and stems can be used for baskets and firewood. It is often grown as a shade crop, cover crop or windbreak. After establishment, pigeon pea improves the soil by its extensive root system. The bacterium Rhizobium that lives on the roots of the pigeon pea is able to fix nitrogen and thus to improve soil fertility. Fallen leaves are used as mulch. Traditional uses as medicine are many, e.g. young leaves are applied to sores, herpes and itches. 

Nutritive Value per 100 g of edible Portion

Raw or Cooked Pigeon Pea Food
(Calories / %Daily Value*)
(g / %DV)
(g / %DV)
(g / %DV)
(g / %DV)
(mg / %DV)
(mg / %DV)
(mg / %DV)
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
Vitamin B 6
Vitamin B 12
(mg / %DV)
(mg / %DV)
(g / %DV)
Pigeon Peas (Red Gram) cooked 121 / 6% 23.2 / 8% 0.4 / 1% 6.8 / 14% 43.0 / 4% 119.0 / 12% 1.1 / 6% 384 / 11% 3.0 IU / 0% 0.0 / 0% 0.1 / 3% 0.0 / 0% 0.1 / 10% 0.0 / 0% 1.1
Pigeon Peas (Red Gram) raw 343 / 17% 62.8 / 21% 1.5 / 2% 21.7 / 43% 130 / 13% 367 / 37% 5.2 / 29% 1392 / 40% 28.0 IU / 1% 0.0 / 0% 0.3 / 14% 0.0 / 0% 0.6 / 43% 0.2 / 11% 3.5

*Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower, depending on your calorie needs. 



Climatic conditions, soil and water management

Optimum temperatures for pigeon pea cultivation range from 18 to 38°C. Pigeon pea does not tolerate frost. Above 29°C, soil moisture and fertility need to be adequate. Rainfall optimum is 600-1000 mm/year. Pigeon pea is a short day plant. Flowering is triggered by short days, whilst with long days plants grow vegetative. It is sensitive to high salinity and to water logging. It flowers well where rainfall is 1500 to 2000 mm. On deep, well-structured soil it will grow where rainfall is 250 to 370 mm. Pigeon pea is rarely found above altitudes of 2000 m. Drained soils of reasonable water-holding capacity and with pH 5-7 are favourable for its growth. Pigeon pea does not tolerate shallow soils or water logging. 


Pigeon pea varieties in Kenya and their characteristics:

Variety Maturity period (days) Potential yield (90 kg bags/acre) Characteristics
"Kat 60/8" 135-150 5-7 for one season (13 for 2 seasons) Grains are white with brown spots and smaller seed size than local races. Grows between 0-1800 m above sea level and performs well where temperatures are high. Tolerant to Fusarium wilt and leaf spot diseases. Susceptible to pod sucking bugs and pod borers.
"Kat 81/3/3" 170-185 6-11 Tolerant to wilt, pod sucking bugs and pod borers. Cream white grain with large brown patches. Adapted to medium and higher altitudes (over 900 m above sea level)
"Kat 777" 160-180 6-10 Oval white seeds. Adapted to medium and higher altitudes (above 900 m above sea level)
"ICPL 89091" 120 4 for one season, 8 for 2 seasons It is grown in the same range of altitude as "KAT 60/82" but is more adapted to the more humid coastal zones. Performs best in pure stands at quite high density.
"Mbaazi-1" 105-120 4 in one season Grows between 600 and 900 m above sea level. Grain greyish in colour. Should be grown as a pure stand
"Mbaazi-2" 150-180 6 Adapted to medium and high altitudes (900 - 1800 m). Grain greyish in colour. Tolerant to insect pests and Fusarium wilt
"Mbaazi-3" 90-105 6 Performs well at altitudes 10-1500 m. Grain greyish in colour
"Local races"      

Examples of pigeon pea varieties in Tanzania

  • "Komboa" (performs well below altitude of 1500 m; early maturing about 90 - 100 days; grain mottled cream and brown; potential yield of about 4 t/ha)
  • "Mali" (adapted to altitude between 500 - 1500 m; medium maturity: 130 - 150 days; grain yield 1.0 - 3.0 t/ha; resistant to Fusarium wilt; tolerant to insect pests and drought)
  • "Tumia" (performs well below 1500 m altitude; recommended for areas with low to medium rainfall (250 - 600 mm); maturity less than 150 days; grain yield of 1.8 - 2.4 t/ha; white grain colour; susceptible to Fusarium wilt; tolerant to drought)
  • "Luwe 1 - 5" (maturity of about 159 days; grain yield of 1.2 t/ha; white grain colour; susceptible to Fusarium wilt)
  • "KAT 60/8" (as in Kenya)


Examples of pigeon pea varieties in Uganda

  • "KAT 60/8" (as in Kenya)
  • "Apio Elina" (local variety; grown between 1000 - 1175 m; maturity: 6 - 9 months; grain yield: 250 - 500 kg/ha)
  • "Adyang" (local variety; maturity: 6 - 9 months; yield: 250 - 450 kg/ha)
  • "ICPL 87091" (maturity: 97 - 104 days; gain yield: 1.99 t/ha; white grain colour)
  • "ICPL 87101" (maturity: 93 - 102 days; grain yield: 2.2 t/ha; brown grain colour)
  • "ICPL 90029" (maturity: 92 - 104 days; grain yield: 1.6 - 2.5 t/ha; brown grain colour)

Propagation is by seed, stem cuttings rarely succeed. Pigeon pea varieties differ not only in form of seeds, colour and taste, but also in growth habit, time of flowering and susceptibility towards pests and diseases. Seed rate: 20-25 kg per ha (8-10 kg per acre)


Land preparation

Pigeon pea thrives best in seedbeds prepared by deep ploughing and cultivations to reduce weeds. Seeds should be sown in rows with spacing of 30-50 cm x 75-150 cm and 10 cm deep. There is no standard spacing - spacing depends on variety, soil type and production system. In dry areas, and especially in coarse-textured, infertile soils, farmers use wide spacing between plants to limit competition.
Plants are fairly slow to start and weed control for the first two months is important in crop establishment. Once plants are established they grow vigorously.


Weeds must be controlled to facilitate slow initial growth. Wind may bend the plants but staking is not practised. Response to fertilisers is seldom economic. In Eastern Africa, the crop is cultivated on marginal lands by resource-poor farmers, who traditionally grow landraces. Inputs such as fertilisers, irrigation and pesticides are hardly used.



In intercropping, the crop performs well with 2 rows of cereals (e.g. sorghum, millets), cotton or groundnut. After harvest of the intercrop, long-duration pigeon pea continues to grow and protects the soil. Pigeon pea is regarded as a good plant for restoration of fertility and is used in a rotation with crops such as maize-groundnut-tobacco-pigeon pea for three to four years in Uganda. One of the advantages of pigeon pea is the increased growth of the grass interplanted with it. In Uganda, it is usually sown in alternate rows with sesame or African finger millet (Eleusine coracana), and in Malawi with maize. In Tanzania, the main intercrop is cassava. In Kenya, sorghum and maize are the most common intercrops with pigeon pea. However, due to its high demand, there is a tendency to move away from traditional intercropping to monocropping. In Ukambani and Coastal strip, Kenya, the crop is grown commercially in large plots. 



The crop is usually cut near the ground when most pods are mature, or mature pods are picked individually. Green pods are picked over a long period in home gardens or hedge crops. Ratoon cropping is mostly practised in pigeon pea producing areas in Kenya. After harvest the stems are cut back to facilitate re-growth and a second crop is harvested in the subsequent season. Entire air-dried plants or pods are threshed, usually by hand or with cattle, and seed is cleaned. Clean bins prevent insect attack, which can be considerable. Storage as split peas reduces bruchid attacks. Processing includes dhal making, either wet (after sprinkling heaps of seed) or dry, by milling.

Information on Pests

General information

The most important pests of pigeon peas are insects feeding on pigeon pea pods and seeds. Surveys in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda (Minja et al., 1999) have shown that the most important pests of pigeon pea pods and seeds in the region are:

  • pod sucking bugs,
  • pod and seed boring caterpillars,
  • pod flies

Varieties that mature during the dry season have low damage levels (Snapp et al., 2003). A number of caterpillars (e.g. hairy caterpillars and semiloopers), and beetles (e.g. weevils, and foliage beetles) that feed on foliage of other legumes and grain legumes also attack pigeon peas, but they are usually not important.

Examples of Pigeon Pea Pests and Organic Control Methods

Information on Diseases

Examples of Pigeon Pea Diseases and Organic Control Methods


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